Tag Archives: 2013 Albums of the Year

2013 Albums of the Year: The Full List, and a little extra…

21 Dec

2013 Albums of the Year The Full List

Just as we did with our other lists this month, EPs of the Year and Tracks of the Year, we have decided to put all ten of our favourite albums of 2013 into one easy to read list. And, as with our 2014 Preview series, we have also added some honourable mentions of albums that we loved but didn’t quite make it into our final ten.

Every year when we sit down to work out our albums of the year, we always end up surprising ourselves in some way or other. This year was no different and one thing that caught our attention, though probably means very little, was the geographical make up of the list, with seven of the ten albums coming from the USA and only three from the UK, and how many (eight) were debut albums. Evidently we like new things from overseas very much.

Anyway, here you go, all in one place, our favourite albums of the year. Just click on the album title to be taken to the original post and to read more about each one.

Enjoy and see you next week for some regular blog posts and festive fun as well.


#10: Superhumanoids – Exhibitionists

”All throughout Exhibitionists, melodies swoop and swoon, flying to the sun and melting into considered and analytical lyrics. Light and dark meet, mix and leave hand-in-hand, carried off on the marbled tide of heady and vibrant synth-pop and more downtempo and icy soundscapes. The Los Angeles based band has created sounds that dance, sway and float in equal measure and the result is an absolute delight.”

#9: Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone

”Her vocals, so distinctive and unlike almost anything else you’ve ever heard, slip seamlessly from style to style. Warmth and frost, steel like determination and vulnerable insecurity, world weary wisdom and wide-eyed naivety; all feature and all feel entirely natural. She has paid her dues, taken her licks and learnt her lessons. This education, her talent and the fact that she probably bleeds music and Memphis has all come together in a glorious whole and the result is a fantastically varied and captivating album.”

#8: Caveman – Caveman

”Like a sprawling desert, Caveman is broad and spread out as far as the eye can see. Blissfully dreamy guitars wash away the world on lullabies of shimmering heat haze reverb, while the vocals of Matthew Iwanusa float wistfully through your mind and off to the distant horizon.”

#7: Rhye – Woman

”The songs are rich and smooth like a vintage red wine in the company of good friends. Robin Hannibal’s arrangements are deft, delicate and subtle, awash with a languid sophistication, offering glimpses into the intimacy of love, be it full and joyous or pained, private and profound.”

#6: London Grammar – If You Wait

”It is a groundswell of emotion, rising up to the sky and stirring the soul, sending shivers down spines and ripples of Goosebumps across arms. Particularly during moments of quiet, haunting breaths, like those that give way to a compelling, crashing rhythm on “Stay Awake”, or the simple piano intro to “Sights”.”

#5: Day Joy – Go To Sleep, Mess

” Songs trickle gently along, rippling before they unexpectedly swell and rise; lifting you high and carrying you away on a beautiful tide of delicate emotion. Their spectral melodies create a sense of blurriness, like the world seen through rain speckled glasses. Your mind is distorted and made fuzzy by the echoing, swirling sounds and vocals as they shimmer and float on the breeze.”

#4: Young Hunting – Hazel

”There is no urgency to Hazel, it is staid, serene like a lake with not a ripple on its surface but amongst the gorgeous and woozy instrumentals, there is darkness. It is dream-pop but laced with foreboding, a feeling that something is about to upset this idyllic scenario. This sense of unease is perhaps best represented by “Baby’s First Steps”, a track that sounds like a late drive along a 1950’s mountain road, loved one in the passenger seat after a pleasant evening with friends. The night is clear and the road is empty, but the audience knows all is not right.”

#3: Public Service Broadcasting – Inform – Educate – Entertain

”It is far too easy to get lost in the perceived gimmick of Public Service Broadcasting and to our mind that misses the point. The samples are critical of course, but the beauty and enjoyment comes from how they are used and woven into complimentary sounds to convey a narrative, emotion, excitement and energy.”

#2: Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

” Chvrches are exciting. Martin Doherty and Iain Cook wield sonic weapons like a pair of skittish electro-ninjas; flipping, kicking and letting loose shurikens of rapid beats and synth lines with deadly precision while Lauren Mayberry’s sweet emotive vocals rise up above them as if summoned by some mystical enchantress.”

#1: John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

”Here Grant plays with genres more than before as well. Stark electronic melodies and rough synths are juxtaposed with soft, mellifluous harmonies with the guesting (and understated wonderfulness of) Sinead O’Connor and his floating, winsome vocals. But this variety of styles embraced within the album could be seen as representation of the tumultuous variety of emotions and mood swings one undergoes when experiencing and coming to terms with heartbreak. For this is undeniably a break-up album. An album of a man who has been knifed in the heart by a shattered relationship and is coming to terms with the anger, depression, desire and love that remains in his soul.”


Honourable Mentions…

Vuvuvultures – Push / Pull

VVV-Strikethrough

There is a sense of foreboding, of death and of something much bigger than us, of something beyond our comprehension that is prevalent throughout. Be it the portentous, doom laden drum beats and bass sounds that awake “The Professional” or the foot-stomping bluesy sleaze of “Your Thoughts Are A Plague”, cataclysmic events are only moments away. Vuvuvultures have brought the end of this world with them and its noise is addictive.

Guitars shudder and grind, basslines throb and groove, drumbeats pound and scatter and above it all, vocals soar and caress. And within, sometimes buried, sometimes bursting forth beyond these instruments are the electronics, the ghosts in the machine that are desperate to break out. Little glitchy moments here, synthy wails there, digital flourishes that embellish and enhance. On “Tell No One” especially, the machines are coming and the electronics give it an extra feeling of danger, of despair and of impending menace.

Peppered within the album too are fleeting moments where they have taken over entirely, the A.I finding a way to circumvent its masters and the machines talk to one another. They appear at the end of the “Whatever You Will” and the slower undulations of the snake like “Empurrar/Puxar” (Push/Pull in Portuguese) which close the album give way to a minute or so of digital whirring and twitching, calling out to its brothers and signalling perhaps the next stage of Vuvuvultures evolution.

“Push/Pull” is on Energy Snake Records / Cadiz and can be ordered here.



Ms Mr – Secondhand Rapture

MS MR Secondhand Rapture

MS MR resides in a world of the macabre, a world of glitchy electronics, incessant rhythms, swirling strings and deliciously gloomy vocal harmonies. ”We really get off and thrive on a certain level of uneasiness and suspense” Lizzy told us, and that is apparent throughout Secondhand Rapture. Be it the upbeat, clap-happy fun of “Salty Sweet” or the slower melancholy of “Twenty Seven” and “This Isn’t Control”, there is always a sense of disquiet and drama within. It’s just how pop should be, full of big, majestic melodies and hooks big enough to catch a whale. The brilliantly brooding “BTSK” even contains a synth line that is oddly reminiscent of some unnecessarily successful 90s euro-dance, it sounds amazing.

There are so many highlights within; it is almost like a greatest hit compilation. Picking the next single is more taxing than trying a Rubik’s cube while drunk but our money would be on “No Trace”. It’s a beautiful and brutally theatrical piece of noir-pop, full of attitude and sass as well as trademark MS MR rhythms and striking film score-esque strings that urgently harry and batter the listener into sublime submission.

MS MR have been hitting home runs since they came out swinging last year and after the success and acclaim of their previous singles, videos and EP, with Secondhand Rapture they may well have just hit a grand slam.

Secondhand Rapture is available digitally from iTunes.



Little Tybee – For Distant Viewing

Little Tybee

After opening with some delightful, occasional tropical sounding, jazzy folk sounds, we are treated to four minutes of swooshing instrumentalism, laced with gentle prog-rock sensibilities on “Fantastic Planet”. “Herman” drips with aquatic, almost sonar style elements that complement the rich string orchestration before, seemingly out of no-where, dropping in a surprising moment of grinding reverb. It is as unexpected as it is perfect, but it remains the only fleeting moment of rough with the otherwise very smooth.

For Distant Viewing inculcates a care free attitude in its listener. Soothing, heavenly strings entwine with Brock Scott’s rich and slightly sweet vocals as they lick flame like around the rat-a-tat of percussion and the light twang of guitar. It feels fresh at every listen, as if it has just been conceived, improvised, jammed. It is an album that will make you smile, make you sway and hell, maybe even kick off your shoes and have a little shuffle.

Named after an island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, the music of Little Tybee has a sun kissed feel, not bleached out and surf swept, but bright and breezy. Part Vampire Weekend, part Simon and Garfunkel, perhaps even part Juan Zelada (for they have his charm in their song writing), it is like a glorious summer’s day, it is to be revelled in.

’For Distant Viewing’ is out on Paper Garden Records and can be ordered here.



Cherokee Red – Cherokee Red

Cheroke Red

When you start swaying softly as soon as you start listening to an album, you know you are in for a treat, and so it is with the eponymous debut album of Pennsylvania’s Cherokee Red. It begins with the mellifluous gorgeousness of “Veya Con Dios” and closes with the so-soft-and-delicate-it-could-actually-be-a-lullaby “Blissful Blows”. In between are 9 more tracks of wistful and swoonsome beauty.

“Veya Con Dios” for example, is so pretty you could stick a crown on it and it would win pageants. It’s so beautiful you could frame it and hang it in the Louvre; it’s so … you get the idea, it’s gorgeous. The guitar strums softly as the melody floats like the proverbial wave lapping against the shore; there’s not a cloud in the sky as the sun glistens above you on this deserted beach. It is pure calm and relaxation, Christiana Bartolini’s vocals, from the opening ‘do do, do-do-do-do-do-do-do’, massages away your cares and worries. It’s dreamy, but not in a dreampop way, more a teenage girl describing the High School hunk kind of way.

Bartolini’s vocals are a spoonful of sugar that could make the worst news in the world seem utterly delightful and the arrangements are elegant and divine. Even “Heavy Soul”, with its momentary seconds of comparative angularity and wobbliness, is a tender piece of melody that culminates in the sounds of crickets chirping, preparing the quiet night time for the aforementioned lullaby of “Blissful Blows” which follows.

It caresses the brain and brings about a state of tranquillity in the listener. So laid back and luxuriantly relaxing is it that you may find yourself drifting off into a blissful slumber as you listen. It is the musical equivalent of The Little Book of Calm, except it actually works.

Cherokee Red is available to buy here.



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2013 Albums of the Year #1: John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

20 Dec

John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

Our favourite album of the year comes from one of the most talented and honest songwriters we have had the pleasure to hear from in our lifetime. The openness with which John Grant has approached his solo work and the eloquence and beauty he conveys is, to our mind, unrivalled in modern music.

His second solo album had the unenviable task of living up to its predecessor, the divine sounding and emotionally wrought Queen of Denmark which itself topped end of year lists and prompted a collective critical swooning. Yet Pale Green Ghosts somehow manages to be even more candid and, as a result, disarming. Grant doesn’t so much wear his heart on his sleeve as place it in our hand and leave us to pour over it for hours whilst making us laugh, cry and melt with sounds and melodies that excite and soothe in equal measure.

Here Grant plays with genres more than before as well. Stark electronic melodies and rough synths are juxtaposed with soft, mellifluous harmonies with the guesting (and understated wonderfulness of) Sinead O’Connor and his floating, winsome vocals. But this variety of styles embraced within the album could be seen as representation of the tumultuous variety of emotions and mood swings one undergoes when experiencing and coming to terms with heartbreak. For this is undeniably a break-up album. An album of a man who has been knifed in the heart by a shattered relationship and is coming to terms with the anger, depression, desire and love that remains in his soul.

The honesty and reality of the emotion expressed so powerfully gives Pale Green Ghosts an accessibility and resonance that we may not have expected, and may give reason to its chart performance (it reached the top 20 here in the UK). That is not to mean Grant, an intellectual purveyor of lyrical dexterity, a wordsmith, has dumbed down and gone mainstream, far from it. It is that Pale Green Ghosts is a very human and relatable album, and one that sounds marvellous.

As far as songwriting goes Grant is as good as he has ever been, letting us see his world through black humour (“I Hate This Town”), defiance (“Blackbelt” is the lyrical equivalent of a Jerry Springer beatdown and the prejudice and homophobia he still suffers (the hauntingly beautiful and moving “Glacier” which gives us shivers each and every time we hear it). His writing is like those first 10 minutes of Up, it is so touching and real that only those with hearts of granite could fail to be affected. Heartstrings are not so much tugged at as plucked until tears begin to well up, then just as they begin to fall he will quickly tickle your funny bone and as you start to smile and chortle the emotion will come flooding out once more as Pale Green Ghosts is revealed in all its heart-wrenching magnificence.

It is an album we have genuinely laughed with, cried with, drummed along with, danced to and sung along to loudly. It, like Queen of Denmark, is an album we have come back to repeatedly since its release and, given its timeless quality, one we will continue to enjoy for years to come no doubt. For our money, John Grant is the finest songwriter of our generation and Pale Green Ghosts has only reinforced that view. It is quite simply sublime and undoubtedly our favourite and most loved album of 2013.

’Pale Green Ghosts’ is out on Bella Union and available to buy from Rough Trade


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2013 Albums of the Year #2: Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

20 Dec

CHVRCHES - TBOWYB

As we near the end of our countdown of our favourite albums of 2013, we reach number two and an album that has probably had more consecutive plays in our car than any other. Our love of synth-pop is well documented and Chvrches are quite probably the best exponents of the genre around at the moment.

Eight of our Top 10 albums of the year have been debuts and The Bones Of What You Believe is perhaps the most accomplished of the lot. Chvrches make music to dance to, to sing along to and to enjoy on both a superficial and deeper level. It has mainstream appeal, of course it does it’s pop music, but it has enough of an edge to keep those of a more discerning sensibility interested and excited. Lyrically it is dark and at times raw, like Prince (who the band love and draw inspiration from) in his pomp, The Bones Of What You Believe can sing to you about fairly brutal subject matters without you even noticing as you groove along to the laser guided electonica and crashing digital beats.

Chvrches are exciting. Martin Doherty and Iain Cook wield sonic weapons like a pair of skittish electro-ninjas; flipping, kicking and letting loose shurikens of rapid beats and synth lines with deadly precision while Lauren Mayberry’s sweet emotive vocals rise up above them as if summoned by some mystical enchantress.

Picking a favourite song from the album is impossible, we had a crack at it for our Tracks of the Year post but even then we said it was like trying to choose which superpower you’d have. They are all superb and immensely enjoyable. And that’s the key thing about The Bones Of What You Believe, it’s probably not the ‘best’ (whatever that means) album of the year, but is the most fun, the most energetic and entertaining on a full on, turn it up and blast it out level.

They take you on a journey of kaleidoscopic colour and shapes cascading into one another. Listening to The Bones Of What You Believe is a bit like taking a souped up dragster on a joyride through Katy Perry’s candyland universe, slowing down only to take out the gummi bears and nauseating niceness of it all in a series of ruthless drive-by’s. Deadly synths are fired from the side of the car as we race past delirious and euphoric, leaving the carnage behind in a soundtrack of killer pop music that is as equally moving as it is energetic and fun.

Chvrches have delivered an album that is, as they say, all killer and no filler, which is why it’s right up there almost at the very peak of our list, only something truly special could have beaten Chrvches to the top spot this year and in reality, they were a whisker away from taking the crown

Buy The Bones Of What You Believe


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2013 Albums of the Year #3: Public Service Broadcasting – Inform – Educate – Entertain

19 Dec

PSB_Album Art

It should come as no surprise at all to anyone who reads Alphabet Bands, even semi-regularly, to see that the debut album by Public Service Broadcasting should feature highly on our list of favourites from 2013. After topping our EP of the Year list in 2012 with The War Room, we, like many many others, were eagerly and excitedly awaiting the arrival of Inform – Educate – Entertain. We were not disappointed.

We’ve spoken at length about how skilfully and artfully they use the music and the melody to complement and enhance the narrative of the samples from old public information films and archive footage, but it is worth stating again. It is far too easy to get lost in the perceived gimmick of Public Service Broadcasting and to our mind that misses the point. The samples are critical of course, but the beauty and enjoyment comes from how they are used and woven into complimentary sounds to convey a narrative, emotion, excitement and energy.

There is no single thread here, but each track has been spun and entwined with its own individual soundtrack. “Signal 30” brilliantly evokes the sense of speed and drama, hurtling along at a breakneck pace with the guitars revving and growling engine like, an undercurrent of barely contained aggression bubbling away. “Everest” is ebullient, uplifting and triumphant. The swell of brass at the tracks culmination brings the feeling of achievement and success to life and instils a sense of warmth and euphoria in the listener while “The Now Generation” is much more playful and light-hearted.

There is variety here in spades, so much so that the samples actually augment the music, not the other way round. Naval Officer Thomas Woodrooffe’s infamous drunken account of the Spithead Review of 1937 could easily be played for laughs and dismissed but instead, on “Lit Up”, it forms a delicate and evocative accompaniment to a moment of wondrous and beautiful calm. ”It’s fairyland, the whole fleet is in fairyland”, he rambles as we are treated to floating electronics and church bells, very much the aural equivalent of the fairy lamps he can see all around him.

On an album as strong as Inform – Educate – Entertain it is hard to pick standout tracks, but you will have to go far to find a better album opener than the title track, a medley of the forthcoming delights that will have fans grinning from ear to ear, while the W.H. Auden featuring “Night Mail” is just sublime.

As wonderful as the samples are and as perfectly chosen and utilised as they have been, attention should be on the undeniable quality of the music presented, the emotions that it is able to stir within and the simple fact that, because of those factors, you will be listening to this for a long time to come. It’s a fantastic accomplishment and one that does everything it says it will, and then some.

’Inform – Educate – Entertain’ is out on Test Card Recordings and can be bought digitally here or on CD/Vinyl here.


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2013 Albums of the Year #4: Young Hunting – Hazel

19 Dec

Young Hunting

Two years in the making and inspired by the dismay and despair of failures in and out of love, our fourth favourite album of the year comes from Los Angeles quintet Young Hunting. Much like our number five album, they are signed to a label, Gold Robot Records, which is a kite mark for quality and fantastic music and their debut album, Hazel is exquisite.

Those two years were time well spent, they locked themselves away and as a result, each track has been meticulously and lovingly rendered and polished. Each provides a masterclass in controlled and precise musicianship. Each moment, each element of sound is considered and essential to the listening experience. There are no extraneous flourishes; no flamboyances added just because they could, each detail augments the narrative of the lyrics and aural caresses of the musical arrangements.

For example in “Annabelle”, which might just be one of the most heartwrenchingly beautiful things we’ve ever heard, the attention to detail is astounding. The simplicity of its beginning, a guitar and vocals, swells as the tale develops. The drumbeat acts as harbinger of the woe to come, a slowed down take on the drums that would precede an execution, and the trumpets which join as denouement is reached are a mournful lament for the loss experienced.

While “Annabelle” is a favourite of ours, a case could be made for practically every track to take the role of standout, they are each that strong. “White Lightyears” is ever so slightly more up-tempo and features the kind of dreamy, blues tinged vocals that Chris Isaak charmed the world with all those years ago. “Maze” is a wonderfully compelling piece of honeydewed, summer folk-pop, all shimmery and swirly but, as with so much of Hazel, grounded in melancholy. Then there is “Wrecking Ball”, “Rust”, “Sweet Bird”… well, just the album. And it is an album, a whole piece rather than a collection of songs. It works as a singular entity as well as nine individual elements.

There is no urgency to Hazel, it is staid, serene like a lake with not a ripple on its surface but amongst the gorgeous and woozy instrumentals, there is darkness. It is dream-pop but laced with foreboding, a feeling that something is about to upset this idyllic scenario. This sense of unease is perhaps best represented by “Baby’s First Steps”, a track that sounds like a late drive along a 1950’s mountain road, loved one in the passenger seat after a pleasant evening with friends. The night is clear and the road is empty, but the audience knows all is not right. The bends are tight and blind, the driver’s eyes are heavy and the loved one’s seatbelt hangs unfastened by the door. It is only a matter of time. So it is dream-pop yes, but there are nightmares there too. Magical, beautiful nightmares.

Hazel is 41 minutes of laid back beauty, hazy melodies and regret filled harmonies blend perfectly and meander along together to stunning effect. It soothes and relaxes but also stirs feeling within and provokes a reaction. It is an album that you can get lost in time and time again and each listen reveals something new, another layer of emotion or element of sound hidden within. It is an album that you will keep coming back to and that, ironically given its inspiration, you are unlikely to ever fall out of love with.

’Hazel is out on Gold Robot Records and you can order your copy here.


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